Asia Ashley Staff Writer
December 12, 2013
A West Point family is seeking answers in the disappearance of a man who has been missing since May, after his release from the Chambers County Jail in LaFayette, Ala.
James Lamar Garner, 41, was arrested May 1 in Lanett, Ala., on suspicion of public intoxication, according to a booking representative at the jail, and was released at 9:47 a.m. May 3.
Garner’s family became curious about his whereabouts after reading about his arrest in a newspaper and wondering why he had not returned home to West Point after nearly two weeks.
“That’s totally out of his character not to come and get any of his things,” said Mark Garner, James Garner’s cousin, speaking on behalf of the family.
They visited the jail to find out where James Garner could have gone after his release.
Mark Garner alleges that in his initial visit to the jail, there was no record of James Garner in the jail database. Jail personnel later told the family that James Garner left the jail walking towards a nearby day care center after he said he had no one to pick him up, and provided records of James Garner’s release.
A few weeks after his cousin’s disappearance, Mark Garner said he spoke with witnesses in the area who told him they had seen James Garner the day he was released. Several said that James Garner had been lingering near the fence of the day care center and shortly after, James Garner was allegedly seen being put into the rear of a sheriff’s patrol car.
A letter to the Federal Bureau of Investigation from the family states, “It was told to us that the cops surrounded him and verbally threatened to get him out of town.”
Chambers County Sheriff Sid Lockhart denies the allegation that Garner had gotten into a deputy’s vehicle, though he said a deputy did see James Garner walking near the area.
The day care had called the police for James Garner allegedly attempting to enter the day care center, and a deputy was the first to respond to the scene, due to backed up calls for the LaFayette Police Department, Lockhart said.
A LaFayette officer, who supposedly knew James Garner, arrived and offered him a ride home, but Garner refused to get into the vehicle, Lockhart said. He had refused to call family and left the area walking, where a deputy had last seen him at a nearby cul-de-sac.
The family filed a missing person report with the West Point Police Department and later with LaFayette police.
A video of James Garner’s release from the jail was sent to the West Point Police Department and shown to Mark Garner and James Garner’s mother, confirmed West Point police Capt. Robert Fawley, but the video was turned over to the LaFayette Police Department, since James Garner was last seen in LaFayette.
In the video James Garner appeared to be disoriented, according to Mark Garner.
“They should have never let him go into the public,” said Mark Garner. “He was still staggering and he couldn’t even pull his pants up. It was obvious that he was disoriented.”
Mark and his family suspect foul play to be involved in James Garner’s disappearance.
“This situation worries us because the city of LaFayette has a very long history of being a racial city that still has KKK (Ku Klux Klan) activity that arises from time to time. We really believe in our hearts that this case is being covered up to what has really happened to James,” the family states in the FBI letter.
The Garner family and their family attorney have requested a copy of audio and video surveillance pertaining to James Garner from the LaFayette Police Department and Chambers County Sheriff’s Department, but have not received any correspondence, according to the family’s lawyer, Eric Hutchins, legal redress for the NAACP.
Hutchins said that they will pursue a lawsuit against the agencies for failing to comply with the Alabama Open Records Act for failing to release the requested information.
“We personally delivered our open records request and they’ve yet to produce the documents,” Hutchins said. “His family is entitled to that. It’s not a good sign that they have actually not been able to produce those documents. We’re really concerned.”
Lockhart said LaFayette City Attorney Joseph Tucker is reviewing the case and is now responsible for turning over the requested information.
The letter also indicated that the family was told by the Chambers County Sheriff’s Office that the agency does not have access to “scent-sniffing dogs,” that could have aided in the search for James.
Lockhart said that a helicopter was used in the search for Garner in May, but the use of a canine would not have been beneficial since several weeks of time had lapsed. The search covered a portion of Alabama Highway 50, and West Point and LaFayette police departments also took part in the search in their respective areas.
Missing person fliers are still displayed at various businesses and locations throughout the area, according to Lockhart, and the agencies receive occasional calls or tips about James Garner’s location. The most recent call was about two weeks ago claiming that Garner was seen in Roanoke, Ala., though officers searched the area with no results.
Investigators from the Lafayette Police Department and Tucker could not be reached.
Anyone who may have any information on the whereabouts of James Garner was asked to contact the Lafayette Police Department at 334-864-7243, the West Point Police Department at 706-645-2226 or the Chambers County Sheriff’s Department at 334-864-2211.